Our bullet proof list of the best 10 low cost London experiences for couples
So what of this "British Coldness"!? London is the new capital of love and today we're gonna prove it by telling you the story of a young couple, Martina and Valerio, who chose the British Capital as their holiday destination for two.
The final result is a cool travel diary with 10 things to do in London for couples that we recommend to everyone looking for some London experiences with a fair share of romanticism. For the sake of those that want to keep it low cost as much as we do, each "fancy" activity is back up by a much cheaper alternative (sometimes even free!) and vice versa...
1. Take a boat trip on the Thames
The iconic, red double-deckers are the ultimate way to travel around London, showed in pretty much every city postcards as much as the famous phone booth, but there's actually another way to enjoy London on the move.
On our last morning in London we decided to leave the mainland and hop on board the Water Bus (line RBI, check the prices here) from Westminster Pier. London from the Thames has a completely different feeling: the faꞔade of the Houses of Parliament reflecting upon the water, the London Eye and the Globe Theatre a little bit further ahead, the profile of The Shard peeking out from the City, while on the opposite shore the incredible Tower of London was drawing closer until we passed under the Tower Bridge... amazing how a small change in perspective can make all the difference!
VIP option: As in every city crossed by a river, there are thousands of companies that organise boat trips on the Thames. If you are searching for a London experience for couples with an added romantic value, we recommend the night boat trip by City Cruiser, when the shores of the Thames light up with life and the Tower Bridge shines brightly on the dark water.
2. Enjoy the view of London from above
There have been two 'must-dos' in every city trip we took: a magnet to stick on the fridge at home and a panoramic selfie with the whole city in the background. There is something extremely symbolic and suggestive in observing a landscape from above: in some way, the city seems to reveal its soul, no filter added. We gave up on the idea of the London Eye almost immediately: unending queues and £27.00 per person seemed an exaggeration all together, even if it meant to enjoy London from 135 metres from the ground.
We went with a ride in the Emirates Air Line Cable Car, the only one in the city that crosses the Thames up in the air, and only with £4.50! We took off around 18:00 while the sun was setting behind the roof of the O2 Arena, colouring the sky with orange and red... truly a top-rated London experience for couples!
Free Option: We discovered Regent's Park by chance on Saturday afternoon when returning from the British Museum (one of the free things to do in London that you should absolutely include in your itinerary). We had already heard about its massive rose garden (around 12,000 roses!) in memory of Queen Mary; however, what we didn't realise was the breathtaking view available from the tip of Primrose Hill. We mingled with English people and tourists relaxing in the sun, the glittering Shard and the skyscrapers of the City in the background... what a sight!
VIP option (but with a shortcut): Speaking of The Shard, many say it's the best viewpoint to enjoy London from above. Besides, we are talking about the highest skyscraper in Europe: the Skydeck is located on the 72nd floor, 305 metres above the ground. The price of a ticket however is quite expensive, we're talking at least £25. The solution? Some floors down, on the 52nd, you'll find Gong, the bar with a swimming pool that boasts breathtaking panoramic views across London. You can choose your favourite cocktail from the menu "A Miscellany of Inventions" and enjoy a drink with your other half!
3. Discover the perfect place for a selfie for two
After the media wave that has taken the Royal Family by storm in the last years, it's almost mandatory to visit the Kensington Gardens. As a matter of fact, it's actually one of the cleanest and well-planned green areas in the whole city, home to brave squirrels who come down from the trees searching food from tourists.
It's right outside the private area of residency of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, that we found the perfect little corner for lovers: a romantic arch of leaves for a traditional couple selfie! However, once we got back to the hostel the girl at reception told us that Holland Park is actually known as the most romantic park of the city, the only one which mixes the typical "English style garden" with an alternative Japanese twist, with a space completely dedicated to 'zen' nature, the 'Kyoto Garden'. Such a shame that we didn't get time to visit it!
@Steven Feather/ Flickr
Alternative solution: Why don't you put your love to the test with the Lover's Leap Tandem, one of the very few couples bungee jumping experiences in the world... sticking together through good and bad times, right?! Hold on tight and launch off from the roof of O2 Arena, 160 metres from the ground. A little too reckless for our tastes, but if you are short of ideas on what to in London for couples...
4. Visit Hyde Park on horseback
The king of the London Parks? But of course it's Hyde Park! The wildest park in England is 142 hectares long with a total of 400 trees; to run through it on foot is almost a small marathon. Luckily, there is an alternative means to save your breath, and time: a horse! We discovered Ross Nye Stables during our first trip to the capital and the early morning ride along the Rotten Row is still the most romantic thing we did together in London to date. The stables are located just a few steps from Lancaster gate, north of the park (near the Italian Gardens) and a private lesson doesn't cost more than £90: not cheap, but it's worth it!
Smart option: You can always hire a pedalo in Victoria Park and spend some hours on the clear waters of the lake (£10 for every 30 minutes). If it happens to be a Sunday, don't miss the food market that fills the whole park with wonderful smells from 10:00 to 14:00. Many consider it to be the best example of London Street Food and we shan't be ones to argue; the mexican dishes and the glazed doughnuts are absolutely delicious!
@victoriaparkmkt via @mexikings.streetfood
5. Enact the famous love story of Notting Hill
Notting Hill is for sure one of the most colourful and picturesque neighbourhoods of London, but everybody rembers it as the place where Julia Roberts passionately claims to be 'a normal girl, standing in front of boy and asking him to love her'. Yet, Notting Hill has much more to it that a t-shirt with the face of Hugh Grant on it: the whole neighbourhood is a series of colours, the English-style townhouses wearing shades of purple, blue, green and yellow, while small cafes and restaurants fill the streets and squares with small tables for a snack in the sun. During the weekend, Portobello Road is simply enchanting: almost a kilometre of stalls selling rare antique objects, fantastic pieces for lovers of vintage-clothing and an abundance of hand-made trinkets. Without a doubt the most exclusive and vibrant market of London!
Less-touristy option: Decisively less famous but with a stronger folkloristic vibe, Brick Lane Market in East London, in the heart of Banglatown, was our only stop outside the city centre and we coudn't suggest it more. Here the most traditional smells and tastes from the East are jealously preserved even in the middle of the Western lifestyle. Not to mention the dozens of graffiti murals that kept popping up on doors, gates, walls, tiles and frames. Big human portraits made of paint, bubbles and splashes of colour, industrial stickers and mythological creatures turning up in every corner: we had arrived in the heart of Shoreditch, the home of London Street Art.
6. Try a sweet dessert with a view
There is a place in London where you can get a taste of luxury, even if your budget can't afford it. We are talking about Sky Garden, the highest public garden in Europe, a total of 36 floors leading up to a beautiful rooftop from where you can observe London from the clouds... we coudn't think of a batter thing to do in London with your other half, and completly free! Yes, you heard it right: thanks to the 'free-visitor walk-in' concept, the Sky Garden is open every day of the week, including weekends, for whoever wants to escape for a few hours from the city bustle (booking is mandatory).
We celebrated our last evening in London with a dessert near the high glass windows. With only £9.50 we enjoyed a trio of cakes in the Sky Pod Bar with the city shining underneath our eyes, great DJ set in the background and all around us the lushing tropical vegetation of the garden.
7. Find the perfect London show
There is a reason why London is known as the 'European Broadway' and to understand this, it's enough just to step foot in Leicester Square. The stars of the most claimed musicals of the moment greeted us from the huge billboards and digital displays plastered on the front of cinemas and theatres, while the screams of street vendors in the nearby ticket offices echoed in every corner. All around there were casinoes with their lit up signs, many restaurants ranging from chic places with ivory tableclothes to Burger King and the M&M World Store, home to the biggest chocolate coloured walls ever!
A glamourous and lively atmosphere, that however does not hide the stellar prices of whatever musical is running (The Lion King, praised in every review, costs £80). Luckly for us we did end up seeing a show in London but completely for free! We are talking about the hilarious comedy sketch held at The Bill Murray Pub, known throughout the city as the meeting place for young, upcoming comedians to listen to while sipping a cool beer.
@Ray in Manila/ Flickr
Slightly more expensive option (but still low-cost): Our hostel in London was located in Covent Garden, majorly recognised for its indoor market (and to say the least, the Apple Market section boasts real hand-made jewellery!) and for the beautifully coloured Neal's Yard, a nest of narrow streets where the walls of the buildings are the colours of the rainbow and you can breath in the sweet smell of homemade porridge. Here the Royal Opera House can also be found, the home of the Royal Ballet, where you can watch a classical ballet production at the incredible price of £5 (standing)! The secret is to book very much in advance. If instead you find yourself in the city during summer, don't forget that the Globe Theatre holds shakespearean plays that start from £5 per person (Henry IV is the first, starting on the 14 April).
8. Relax with a walk among nature
What to do in London as a couple? Walking hand in hand, obviously! To break the monotony of such a stereotypically romantic activity, we left behind the most common stroll along South Bank for an alternative option why not walk along Regent's Canal, 40 minutes to the northwest of London. We departed from Little Venice, the "miniature Venice" elected by many residents as the most romantic area in London... and for good reason! The colourful house boats (for a minute it seems as though you're in Amsterdam) anchored along the riverbank creat a beautiful play of reflections aceentuated by the rare sunny sky, some converted into pretty floating bars, others embelleshed with flowers and coloured flags, giving life to a delicate and intimate atmosphere in the middle of one of the most crowded cities in Europe.
The more we enter into the greenery of the riverside, the more we couldn't believe it: a pedestrian path immersed in the silence of a Sunday afternoon, benches popping up here and there in the shade of the weeping willows, occupied by festively dressed English families, the Water Bus that passes unnoticed under the stone bridges... an unexpected and alternative London that enchanted us! At one point, we also came across a pair of friendly animals from the London Zoo (inside Regent's Park), whose fences face directly onto the canal.
The peace was soon cut short however by our arrival in Camden. The famous market near the locks was bursting with life: the stalls were crowded in the inner court while the people poured in from the street with snacks in hand, passing between a tattoo shop and a vintage leather jacket store, while a street ahead was filled with the smell of chicken curry, mixing with that of a tomato pasta. A true hub of style and culture (which has been rewarded, not by chance, as one of the best neighbourhoods to stay in in London), halfway between the chaos and charm of a 100% cosmopolitan zone.
@Mike Beales / Flickr
VIP Version: if walking isn't to your liking, there is a decisively more "aristocratic" way to enjoy the view of Regent's Park. The HotTug is the first floating hot tub that allows you to sail around the waters of London in perfect liberty, lying back in 38 degree water with a lot of champagne to accompany you! The price starts from £225 (low season) for the entire jacuzzi: if you are in a group of 6/7 people you should definitely think about it!
9. Choose the perfect pub for a Sunday Roast
The Sunday Roast is a loving relationship that the English have been enjoying for decades, starting from when the farmers would wait an entire week to enjoy the best lunch. The meat, usually beef, should be cooked to perfection and soaked in gravy, the culinary signature of the Sunday Roast, accompanied by seasonal vegetables (between them the potatoes will never be forgotten) and the traditional Yorkshire pudding. We preferred the famous savoury meal to the sweet, but equally traditional, Afternoon Tea; there was something in the idea of dedicating some hours to relaxing and chatting in front of a piping hot meal that reminded us of the all-Italian food culture. The atmosphere at the Drayton Arms did not disappoint us: surrounded by London families gathered around dark wooden tables, we almost felt like a young couple of workers enjoying ourselves on our weekend of freedom! The prices were very reasonable considering the high quality of the meal, starting from £14 a portion. As if that wasn't enough, it became known to us that above the pub a little cinema room was hidden away (20% discount at the entrance if you show your food receipt!)
10. Sleeping in a hostel... yes, even during your romantic weekend in London!
You've understood correctly: we slept in a hostel even during our romantic weekend in London! We spent the first few years after University travelling the world with our backpacks, from India to Europe to the East as far as China, and of course the cosmopolitan London would not disturb our low-cost philosophy: once a backpacker, always a backpacker. This time however, we decided to treat ourselves a little and book a private room as opposed to a bed in a dorm. Even if our previous experiences in dorms were always super positive (it's enough to have a private locker and maybe some ear plugs in hand), sleeping in a private room was a truly luxurious experience!
We stayed at SoHostel, right in the heart of London, and only 10 minutes away from the British Museum and 15 minutes away from Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (that's not even mentioning the easy links to the airport). The room was spacious, fresh white sheets, en-suite bathroom and the same minimal and super-colourful design that characterises the entire hostel. What's more, all the services of a hotel (wi-fi, buffet breakfast, laundry) but they have nothing to do with the friendly, dynamic and relaxed atmosphere of the common room. And what about the rooftop bar? The themed-nights, the dinner of delicious fish and chips freshly made, the games room with the pool tables?
Even if you are with your sweetheart, don't let the chance to speak with other travellers escape you, to feel part of the life of the hostel; sharing experiences, bringing back old memories, gaining new inspirations and making new contacts with people from all over the world is a precious addition that only a hostel knows how to give.
>> To discover other 5-star hostels in London: 7 hostels in the capital of London in 7 videos
This is the report of a mini romantic weekend in London by our travellers: if you have any advice on how to explore the capital like a true expert, or interesting insights on what to do in London, why not become a part of our social community (we are on FB and IG !) and let us hear your voice!
Copyright images Flickr: Creative Commons. Cover image @charlieandlauren